Friday, May 25, 2007

Coffee consumption may lower blood uric acid levels

Coffee consumption may lower blood uric acid levels -- the precursor of gout

High uric acid levels in the blood are a precursor of gout, the most common inflammatory arthritis in adult men. It is believed that coffee and tea consumption may affect uric acid levels but only one study has been conducted to date. A new large-scale study published in the June 2007 issue of Arthritis Care & Research ( examined the relationship between coffee, tea, caffeine intake, and uric acid levels and found that coffee consumption is associated with lower uric acid levels but that this appears to be due to components other than caffeine.

Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world; more than 50 percent of Americans drink it at the average rate of 2 cups per day. Because of this widespread consumption, its potential effects have important implications for public and individual health. Led by Hyon K. Choi, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, the current study was based on the U.S. Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted between 1988 and 1994. It included over 14,000 men and women at least 20 years old who consented to a medical exam in which blood and urine specimens were obtained. Coffee and tea consumption were determined based on responses to a food questionnaire that assessed intake over the previous month. Researchers estimated the amount of caffeine per cup of coffee or tea using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The results showed that levels of uric acid in the blood significantly decreased with increasing coffee intake, but not with tea intake. In addition, there was no association between total caffeine intake from beverages and uric acid levels. These results were similar to those found in the only previous study on the topic, which was conducted in Japan. Interestingly, there was an association between decaffeinated coffee consumption and uric acid levels. "These findings suggest that components of coffee other than caffeine contribute to the observed inverse association between coffee intake and uric acid levels," the researchers state.

A recent study found that coffee was associated lower C peptide levels (a marker of insulin levels). The researchers in the current study suggest that because there is a strong relationship between insulin resistance and elevated uric acid levels, the decreased insulin levels associated with coffee consumption may lead to lower uric acid levels. Coffee is also a major source of chlorogenic acid, a strong antioxidant, which may improve insulin sensitivity. Chlorogenic acid also helps inhibit glucose absorption in the intestine; in another study decaffeinated coffee seemed to delay intestinal absorption of glucose and increase concentrations of glucagon-like peptide 1, which is well known for its beneficial effects on insulin secretion and action. The researchers note further that their results could be due to an effect of non-caffeine components found in coffee, which would also explain why coffee affected uric acid levels but tea did not.

To examine how coffee consumption might aggravate or protect against this common and excruciatingly painful condition, researchers at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, University of British Columbia in Canada, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health in Boston conducted a prospective study on 45,869 men over age 40 with no history of gout at baseline. Over 12 years of follow-up, Hyon K. Choi, MD, DrPH, and his associates evaluated the relationship between the intake of coffee and the incidence of gout in this high risk population. Their findings, featured in the June 2007 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism (, provide compelling evidence that drinking 4 or more cups of coffee a day dramatically reduces the risk of gout for men.

Subjects were drawn from an ongoing study of some 50,000 male health professionals, 91 percent white, who were between 40 and 75 years of age in 1986 when the project was initiated. To assess coffee and total caffeine intake, Dr. Choi and his team used a food-frequency questionnaire, updated every 4 years. Participants chose from 9 frequency responses – ranging from never to 2 to 4 cups per week to 6 or more per day – to record their average consumption of coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea, and other caffeine-containing comestibles, such as cola and chocolate.

Through another questionnaire, the researchers documented 757 newly diagnosed cases meeting the American College of Rheumatology criteria for gout during the follow-up period. Then, they determined the relative risk of incident gout for long-term coffee drinkers divided into 4 groups – less than 1 cup per day, 1 to 3 cups per day, 4 to 5 cups per day, and 6 or more cups per day – as well as for regular drinkers of decaffeinated coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages. They also evaluated the impact of other risk factors for gout – body mass index, history of hypertension, alcohol use, and a diet high in red meat and high-fat dairy foods among them – on the association between coffee consumption and gout among the study participants.

Most significantly, the data revealed that the risk for developing gout decreased with increasing coffee consumption. The risk of gout was 40 percent lower for men who drank 4 to 5 cups a day and 59 percent lower for men who drank 6 or more cups a day than for men who never drank coffee. There was also a modest inverse association with decaffeinated coffee consumption. These findings were independent of all other risk factors for gout. Tea drinking and total caffeine intake were both shown to have no effect on the incidence of gout among the subjects. On the mechanism of these findings, Dr. Choi speculates that components of coffee other than caffeine may be responsible for the beverage’s gout-prevention benefits. Among the possibilities, coffee contains the phenol chlorogenic acid, a strong antioxidant.

While not prescribing 4 or more cups a day, this study can help individuals make an informed choice regarding coffee consumption. "Our findings are most directly generalizable to men age 40 years and older, the most gout-prevalent population, with no history of gout," Dr. Choi notes. "Given the potential influence of female hormones on the risk of gout in women and an increased role of dietary impact on uric acid levels among patients with existing gout, prospective studies of these populations would be valuable."

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